This morning I rolled out of bed to take the dog out. I started to pull on comfy sweats when I heard racket outside that reminded me there’s construction going on. This reminded me there’s friendly construction workers outside. So rather than pull on my comfy sweats, I pulled on something a bit more put together. I felt like there was a discrepancy between-
1. What was comfy
2. What was cute to the men
3. What was cute to me
Which do I pick? How might I frame my thinking when I’m getting dressed? Dressing just for me feels a bit extreme, but getting dressed for the approval of others seems silly.
Dear Closet Conundrums,
I know this struggle all too well! My friend and I were discussing this on Sunday while waiting to get breakfast sandwiches at my beloved Devil’s Teeth Baking Company. She was telling me that she hadn’t done her laundry in a week because she didn’t know what to wear to the laundry room. She wanted to wear pajamas but was worried that people in her building would judge her for looking “messy.” She ultimately realized that no one cared what she looked like to go do laundry, and if they did that they’d get over it. I came to this conclusion many moons ago, when I went into the laundromat one time looking like a Messberry Ragamuffin and some dude still tried to hit it by complimenting my lacy panties. Dang, patriarchy.
OK advice time:
1. Do What You Need to Do to Feel Safe
It sounds to me in this scenario that you wanted to feel safe around these construction guys. Women – especially fat women – have been taught that an easy way to get safety with men is to behave in a way that makes us desirable. Even though, safety and desirability are in fact not the same thing. But let’s stick with the scenario you gave me. So you were negotiating your desire to feel comfortable and your desire to feel safe. In that case I would have gone with #3: what’s cute to you. When you’re in front of your closet it’s totally fine to gauge how you’re feeling and make wardrobe choices based on that. I do this all the time. You will see me in my absolute cutest outfits on days that I feel the shittiest. I’m saying to myself: “the world is pooping on my face but I look gooood today dammit.” Many plus size fashion writers have talked about using clothes as metaphorical armor – sometimes a fabulous outfit protects us from all the things we don’t have a ton of control over. This is self-care. You don’t need to have an axiomatic rule about wearing sweats or not. Be open to what you need to feel safe and good in that moment.
2. Figure Out Your “Point of Diminishing Returns”
One of my favorite people is Kjerstin Gruys (who’s the author of Mirror Mirror of the Wall). She’s a fashion expert with a PhD in Sociology. One time she gave a guest lecture for Babecamp and we started talking about makeup and self-care and looking cute. She clued me into the idea of a “point of diminishing returns” when it comes to the rituals of getting ready. According to the internets, a “point of diminishing returns” states that as investment in a particular area increases, the rate of profit from that investment, after a certain point, cannot continue to increase if other variables remain at a constant. So what I’m trying to say is that there’s a time where we’re doing stuff and it’s working for us and it’s fun, and then at a certain point it stops being fun and it just becomes excruciating. For me I know I’ve hit that point when I start grinding my teeth and my upper lip gets sweaty. When it comes to outfits or time spent deciding what to wear, that painful point is where you need to stop.
3. Remember: You’re Not A Mind Reader
Let’s say you went with Option #2 – wear what is cute to the men. All of a sudden now you’ve got a bunch more thinking to do. What if each of them likes something different? What if one likes beige polyester pants and another likes mini-skirts and tube tops?!?! What are you: a certified Boner Consultant? This is a slippery slope and you’re not a damn mind reader. Nor is it your job to be one, girl! Begin to tune into the thoughts that nurture you and center the question “what do I need right now?” Begin to turn down the volume on the parts that are attempting to forecast the needs of others. Remember that it’s not your job to make sure everyone else’s needs are met. Just yours.
4. Take Back The Power
One amazing thing I’ve learned in therapy is that in any power dynamic there is the person who sits back and waits to be accommodated, and there’s the person who is doing all the work of making sure that person feels comfortable, happy and entertained. What I’m advocating is that you take a turn on the throne. Sit back and allow others to do some of that work. When you’re thinking about the construction workers, leave room for what YOU think and feel about THEM rather than spending a lot of time thinking about what they think and feel about you. Really tune into how much labor you’re doing and own the labor rather than pretend it’s not actually work. Women and other marginalized people have been taught to see our work as invisible and always already owed. Push back against that expectation and see how much less stressful your life becomes.
Dear Virgie is a weekly advice column by Virgie Tovar, MA, author, activist and one of the nation’s leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. She is the editor of Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion (Seal Press, November 2012) and the mastermind behind #LoseHateNotWeight. She holds a Master’s degree in Human Sexuality with a focus on the intersections of body size, race and gender. Virgie has been featured by the New York Times, MTV, Al Jazeera, the San Francisco Chronicle, NPR, Huffington Post, Cosmopolitan Magazine Online, and Bust Magazine. Find her at www.virgietovar.com.